How To Get Your Books On Sale

I’ve been talking with a few people recently about self-publishing, and some of them are vaguely confused about what you need to do in order to get a book out if you’ve written it and want to publish yourself, so I thought I’d do a semi-comprehensive guide. This is for full-length books of 40,000 words or more – short stories are a slightly different beast.

First, you need a word processor that will output in both .doc and .pdf format. Microsoft Word will do both these, I think, and I know that LibreOffice, AbiWord and will. I actually use LyX, because it produces beautifully typeset work and you don’t have to fight it the way you do MS Word. If you use LyX, the book Self-Publishing With LyX (free PDF version) is a godsend.

First, we’ll look at print publishing. Export your book as a PDF, with all fonts included in your file – if you don’t do this, there may be typesetting errors with your finished book. Most typesetting advice will tell you to use a ten-to-twelve point serif font, but I use a fourteen point sans serif. This is because my wife is visually impaired, and she finds this much easier to read. I suspect this will be the case for other visually impaired people, and I don’t want to exclude anyone from reading my books. So long as you use a simple, plain font for this, not Comic Sans or anything equally horrific, your book will look professional enough.

You will want to set fairly generous margins on your pages in the PDF, to allow for the pages to be trimmed. I use the margins suggested in Self-Publishing With LyX – Top: 2.5cm, Bottom 2.5cm, Inner: 2.5cm, Outer: 2.0cm . If you’re using Microsoft Word or one of the Wordalike Free Software word processors, have a template you can use that will make your pages the right size, but when I used this (on my first two books, before I discovered LyX) I found it extraordinarily fiddly to use with LibreOffice, and next to impossible in AbiWord. I don’t have a copy of Microsoft Word, so I have no experience with that.

Once you have your PDF, you next need your cover. If you can’t draw yourself, you have a couple of options. One that some writers take is to browse stock photo libraries, and pay a small amount (usually in the tens of pounds) for rights to use a picture. You can, however, also search Google Images for images that have been freely licensed for commercial reuse.

One thing to remember, as well, is that all images created by branches of the US government are automatically in the public domain, so lots of military, scientific or space photographs, as well as photos of various politicians and so on, are completely free to use.

Now create an account with a print-on-demand publisher. I have heard very, very good things about CreateSpace, but I use myself. This is partly because CreateSpace are an Amazon company, and I don’t want Amazon to have a monopoly or to put my eggs in one basket, and partly because Lulu also offer very good quality hardbacks, and I like to have nice copies of my books.

Once you have an account, click ‘start a new project’ and follow the steps it tells you. You will want your book to be available as a trade paperback (this is a normal paperback of a standard size – Lulu also do larger, coffee-table style books), as a hardback, and as a PDF (don’t add DRM to your PDF – DRM doesn’t deter so-called ‘pirates’ and does deter actual readers). Lulu have an easy-to-use cover designer that will take your image, resize it to the right dimensions, and let you add the title, author name, back-cover blurb and so on. You will get a PDF copy of this completed cover – take a screenshot of the front cover and save it as a JPG, and you can use it for your ebooks.

While Lulu do publish ebooks in non-PDF format, I’ve had nothing but horrendous experience with them in that department, so don’t put your ebooks out through them, other than PDF versions.

You can either buy an ISBN for your book or get one assigned by Lulu. There is no reason I know of not to use Lulu’s. Once you have an ISBN assigned and have bought and approved a proof copy of your book, you can choose either Lulu’s ‘ExtendedReach’ service (which is free, and gets your book on Amazon and into bibliographic databases so other stores can choose to order it) or their GlobalReach service (which is expensive but gets you onto other sites like Barnes & Noble). Interestingly, they seem to be experimenting with merging these two services and making them both free, but I don’t know if that will be going ahead.

Now you’ve got your physical book sorted, it’s time to think of your ebook. For this you’ll need your book to be in Word .doc format. (If you have a choice of which .doc versions to output as, choose Office 2003. DO NOT choose either Windows 95’s version, which doesn’t have all the features you need, or docx, which the major sites don’t yet support). There are many programs that will allow you to produce your own good-quality epub and mobi files, but if you want to get on the major sites you actually want them to convert the files for you at the moment.

Read through the Smashwords Style Guide (free ebook in various formats here) and follow its instructions precisely, paying special attention to the section on Table Of Contents. Then create an account with Smashwords and upload your correctly-formatted .doc file. Smashwords will then convert your book into every format in which you wish to sell it. Select all formats except .mobi (the Kindle format, which we’ll deal with separately) and PDF (Smashwords’ PDF copies look horrible, sell PDFs through Lulu instead).

Smashwords will assign you a free ISBN for your ebook, and will sell DRM-free copies through their own site, but their real advantage is that they will get you onto other online bookstores. They’re the only simple way to get on iBooks, Kobo, Diesel and Sony’s bookstore. They’re also the only way for people outside the US to get on Barnes & Noble’s Nook ebookstore. (People in the US can use Barnes & Noble’s PubIt). These sites between them account for something in the region of 20% of the ebook market.

Smashwords will claim that they offer distribution to Amazon, but they don’t. Disable this option just in case this changes, because you’re going to put your book out through Amazon by yourself – no reason to give Smashwords a cut.

You will want to price your book on Smashwords at between $2.99 and $9,99 – this is not because of anything to do with Smashwords itself, but because Amazon price-matches with other sites, and that’s the price range in which you get the best royalties on Amazon.

Smashwords is a great service, but has two major disadvantages. The first is that they pay quarterly in arrears – so if they receive money from a sale on Apple’s store in February (and Apple take their time to pay Smashwords), you won’t see it until June. The second is that for non-USians they require you to jump through a lot of hoops in the US’ insanely complex tax system if you don’t want to lose 30% of your money, and this takes time. The combination of these two things mean that even though I’ve had books up on Smashwords for a year, I am yet to see any money from them. But when it does finally arrive it’ll be a substantial chunk.

Finally, you’ll want your book to be available on the Kindle. This is the simplest of all these options by this point. Take your Smashwords-formatted .doc file, remove the line about ‘published on Smashwords’ that you inserted to meet Smashwords’ requirements, add page breaks at the end of each chapter (Kindle like page-breaks, Smashwords don’t). Then create an account at and upload your files.

Amazon will try to get you to join a program called KDP Select with your books. DO NOT JOIN THIS. It is a very bad deal for actual writers (as opposed to delusional fools who want to strike it big with a single bestseller), it limits what you can do enormously, and some of its provisions (like turning the money made from lending into a zero-sum game in which you have to compete with other authors) are actively evil.

You should price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, as outside this price range you only make a 35% royalty, but you get 70% if your book’s in that price range. Some people will advise you to sell your books for 99 cents to ‘get noticed’. This was possibly good advice two years ago, but when there are literally millions of books selling at that price (and people giving books away as part of the KDP Select programme), any advantage the low price may have had is gone, so you might as well charge an amount where you’ll see some money. (99 cents is, however, a fair price for a short story if you’re publishing those).

Do not enable DRM – all DRM does is put customers off, it doesn’t deter illegal copying. Enable text-to-speech unless you hate blind people and want them to suffer.

Finally, get an Amazon Author Central account. You will, in fact, want to set up two of these, one on the US site and one on the UK site. From a reader’s point of view, an authorcentral page allows you to see everything an author’s written in one place, as well as a bio of the author (see my page for an example of how this works) – useful if you’ve written multiple books and people want to find them all. From an author’s point of view, it gives you some extra tools to manage your books.

And that’s it. Once you’ve done this, post a link on your blog or website saying your book’s out, then forget about it until the money comes in, and write the next one, and the one after that.


Amazon (US) have now made the Kindle available as a web app. will let you read your Kindle books online (or offline if you install an extension). So far it only works for Safari or Chrome, and only for the US Kindle store, but it should soon be available more widely.

This is a very sneaky move on Amazon’s part – they had a disagreement with Apple, who want 33% of the money for any book sold through the Kindle application on the iPad, so they’ve just made Kindle available for Safari (the browser that comes with iOS devices, I believe), with settings that are ‘optimised for iPad screens’.

But it also means that, once this comes to the UK, I can finally use Kindle ebooks without having to use any proprietary crapware or buy one of their expensive devices – this looks like it’ll work find on Chromium on GNU/Linux. This is handy since Amazon have a de facto monopoly on ebooks, and I’d like at least to be able to see what my books look like to the majority of people buying them (I sell maybe ten ebooks for every physical one at the moment). Previously, to buy even a DRM-free Kindle book, you had to have a Kindle account, which meant having the software (which is only available for Windows, iOS or Android, none of which I have) installed. Now users of minority OSes will be able to buy Kindle books (and convert the DRM-free ones to a proper open format like ePub if they wish).

Another interesting move from Amazon is the Kindle Indie Store. I don’t imagine anyone here will be interested in any of the promoted books, which look like the kind of middlebrow crap you find on the shelves at Tesco, all romance novels and misery memoirs, but it looks like Amazon are getting more and more serious about cutting publishers out of the equation altogether.

Interesting times…

HOWTO: Create a usable ePub file for

I’ve been having a lot of problems with getting my latest ebook uploaded to Lulu, and I know other people have had similar problems, so here’s what I’ve learned so far. (Currently I’ve *finally* got to the point where they’ve accepted my ePub file, but then the next screen gets me an ‘unrecoverable error’).

I’m assuming, first of all, that like me you’ve created your book in a WYSIWYG word processor (like Microsoft Office or AbiWord or LibreOffice) rather than having it already in some suitable XML-like format or creating it in LaTeX or something. If you know enough to do those things, you know enough to hand-hack an ePub file anyway.

But if you have your book as an .odt , .pdf , .rtf or .doc file, you’ll want to convert it and preserve most of your formatting. The best software to do this is a Free Software package called Calibre, available for download for Windows, Mac and GNU/Linux here (though if you have GNU/Linux on your machine it’s almost certainly in the repos of your distro, and you should get it from there).

However, Calibre has what seems to me a rather unintuitive interface full of giant blobby teletubby icons. If you have any difficulty using it, you might want to use this site, which is just a web front-end to Calibre. I have no idea what, if anything, they do with your file once it’s uploaded, so the usual caveats about ‘cloud’ services apply, but I can confirm that the ePub files they generate are valid ones, and generated with a recent version of Calibre (0.7.40 – for comparison the version in Debian Squeeze is 0.7.38 while in Sid it’s 0.7.42).

When you have your ePub, you can check that it’s basically valid using this online validator. However, you can still run into several problems.

The first one I found was a Permissions problem. An ePub is just a renamed .zip file, containing lots of other files which make up your book, and Calibre appears not to give anyone else the permission to do stuff with those files.

The second one – and one that a lot of people have complained about – is unmanifested files. This problem, which is not explained properly by Lulu, is a simple one – in the .zip file, there’s a list of all the files that should be there ( this list is called content.opf ). Sometimes there are extra files in there that shouldn’t be – in my case Calibre generated a directory called META-INF but didn’t list it in content.opf .

So here’s what you need to do. Take the ePub file, and extract it (Windows users can do this by renaming yourbook.epub to and using an app like Winzip. GNU/Linux users and users of other unixalikes can use the unzip command).

Next, change the permissions of all the resulting files so that everyone can access them. Here’s how to do that in Windows. In GNU/Linux you just run the command chmod -R 777 * (making sure, of course, that the directory you’re in contains only those files that you wish to alter).

Now, open the file content.opt in a text editor (like Notepad, Gedit or Vim). You should see in there a section like:

<item href=”Pictures/10000000000000CC000000A83F7DB793.jpg” id=”id3″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”Pictures/100000000000012C000001C881668E50.jpg” id=”id5″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”Pictures/1000000000000177000001781C2F2F04.jpg” id=”id8″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”Pictures/10000000000001A2000001837F27C3DA.jpg” id=”id4″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”Pictures/10000000000002BC000000E20000658C.jpg” id=”id2″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”Pictures/10000000000003CF000002FA25F145A0.jpg” id=”id7″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”Pictures/10000000000003F9000001D7FD934D20.jpg” id=”id6″ media-type=”image/jpeg”/>
<item href=”index_split_000.xhtml” id=”id129″ media-type=”application/xhtml+xml”/>
<item href=”index_split_001.xhtml” id=”id128″ media-type=”application/xhtml+xml”/>

This is the list of files that should be in there. Look through that list and compare it to the files you’ve got, and delete any files that aren’t in the list. If you have anything that isn’t in this list, Lulu will (quite rightly) reject it – you could have put anything in there along with your book, after all.

Now, you’ve got your list of files sorted out, and they all have the correct permissions. What you need to do now is create a new zip file with all of these in. But it’s not *quite* that simple – you have to make sure the file called ‘mimetype’ is the *first* file in the zip file, and normally when you create a zip file the files in it are listed either alphabetically or by time added.

So what you need to do is create a new file and *only* add the file ‘mimetype’ to it. In Windows you can create a zip file called using Winzip and add this file. In GNU/Linux, use the command zip -X0 mybook.epub mimetype .

Now, once you have this file, you can add the rest of your files. In Windows, you can use Winzip for this. In GNU/Linux, use the command zip -X9Dr mybook.epub [list of files and directories] .

If you’ve done this in Windows, you must now rename your file from to mybook.epub . Check your file in your favourite ebook reader (if you don’t have one, you can read files in Calibre as well as write them) and make sure it looks more-or-less like you want it to. Then check you’ve got everything right with this online validator and you can upload it to Lulu. If everything’s gone right, then this should be everything you need to do to get your book uploaded – assuming you don’t, like me, then get a server problem on Lulu’s end.